Opioid pain reliever addiction has increased among women of reproductive age over the last fifteen years. News media and public attention have focused on the implications of this trend for infants exposed to opioids prenatally, with state policy responses varying in the extent to which they are punitive or public health oriented. We fielded a six-group randomized experiment among a nationally representative sample of US adults to test the effects of narratives portraying a woman with opioid pain reliever addiction during pregnancy on beliefs about people addicted to opioid pain relievers, perceptions of treatment effectiveness, policy attitudes, and emotional responses. Portraying a high socioeconomic status (SES) woman in the narrative lowered perceptions of individual blame for addiction and reduced public support for punitive policies. Depicting the barriers to treatment faced by a low SES woman lowered support for punitive policies and increased support for expanded insurance coverage for treatment. The extent to which narratives portraying successfully treated addiction affected public attitudes depended on the SES of the woman portrayed. These findings can inform the development of communication strategies to reduce stigma toward this population, reduce support for punitive policies, and increase support for more public health-oriented approaches to addressing this problem.
Keywords: addiction; message framing; public opinion; substance use disorders; vulnerable populations; women's health.
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